How to Calculate Your Fitness Age (Though Your True Age Is an Attitude)
“Fairy tales can true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart.” - Frank Sinatra
“You’re only as old as you feel,” the saying goes. Most tend to agree with this insight, but putting this phrase into practice is another matter. As a coach, I have long encouraged clients to exceed their expectations and the societal limitations of aging. As evidence, I recently had a client in her fifties start running for the first time, and I’ve had many students begin to learn the craft of boxing after forty. It’s always been my firmly-held belief that our physical limitations are largely mental and how “old” we truly are is a function of attitude and what we do with our bodies.
"You’re only as old as you feel” is also a saying that holds a personal meaning to me in terms of my own journey in health, sport, and fitness. I was always encouraged by my family to not accept physical limitations. I didn’t start working out until college and didn’t begin my journey in the martial arts and boxing until my late twenties. I also have fond memories of the expression being used when my Dad turned fifty. His company took out a billboard, an ad in the local paper, and had buttons printed up with the saying “You’re only as old as you Phil.” (My pop’s name is Phil, and I still have my button.)
Despite this being a grabby expression, it’s not just a cute catchphrase, and it rings true for many of us. Age is just a number and it doesn’t ultimately matter what that number says. It matters what you do with that number.
Determining Your "Fitness Age"
The New York Times Magazine ran a piece a few weeks ago about a Norwegian study that evaluated almost 5,000 subjects to try and determine their true fitness age. The study used a full battery of tests - everything from BMI to cholesterol to VO2 max was measured. Some participants were pleasantly surprised with the findings, while others were shocked to find out they were significantly older than their actual age. Following the study, a website was created to give people a crack at determining their true fitness age. You can give it a go by clicking here.
The estimates are fairly general and the site hardly gives a scientific calculated VO2 max, but it’s an interesting insight nonetheless. Mine said my fitness age is 22, a full twenty years younger than my actual age! Of course, I wish there was a way to tell that number to my aching body, which presently feels like 62 rather than 22, but I guess I’ll take the 22 as a reminder to keep striving.
The Reality of Aging
Aging is one of those things that each and every one of us has to come to grips with at some point. There is no way to stop the wheels of time. Of course, the process itself is both a good and a bad thing. With age, hopefully comes wisdom and perspective. However, getting older also brings aches and pains both literally and figuratively. Our bodies and minds learn and grow from setbacks, but we also tire and suffer pain as a result. On the physical side, our muscles atrophy and endurance capacity diminishes, but ultimately it’s up to us to do what we can with what we’ve got.
A few years back, another popular catchphrase was “thirty is the new twenty,” and so forth for each passing decade. While I found this to be true in my thirties, hitting forty brought a different saying to my experience. For me, forty has become the new seventy! So, I have felt both ends of the spectrum, at times feeling young at heart as well as feeling (much) older than I actually am.
My experience in an around the fitness industry is that many people seem to be in a race against Father Time. While we may accept there are good things about aging, it seems society wants us to be frozen in time with a young body. According to a comprehensive study done in the United Kingdom by Friends United, the optimal point for happiness in the human existence is age 33. Young enough to not have physical imitations, but old enough to have lived a little, gaining the important wisdom that experience brings. While 33 sounds like a pretty good age to be stuck at in make-believe land, the reality is, try as we might, we all have to suck it up and keep moving in one direction - getting older.
The fitness calculator is a potentially a good check in, validation, or motivation. We all want to feel and look our best, but we also need to do so with realism and humility. In my experience, being young is an attitude and a decision, much like being happy. So, if you’re stuck in a rut and feeling older than you are, here are a few tips to get you moving towards feeling young.
Ways to Keep Young at Heart:
- Express grace and beauty - These are concepts that ultimately are not limited by time and aging. Find activities and interests that stimulate grace and beauty. Ask yourself if your body and mind are rigid and tense or relaxed and fluid? Indoors, find things like the martial arts, dance, and yoga. More importantly, make sure to find participation in movement in and around nature, where beauty and grace are found in abundance.
- Exercise and move where the young people are - I have a sixty-year-old in my boxing class. He likes the energy and the process of learning a new skill. Why not? Try a new sport or skill. Find a supportive and youthful activity or group that will support you without limiting you.
- Volunteer where the old people are - Young people (ideally) move well, and old people (hopefully) think well. Find those with lots of life experience and the humility to grow and learn that experience. Perspective can change your life. Go get some.
- Get out that bucket list and tape it to your mirror at home - Start crossing stuff off the list today. Summit a mountain, run a triathlon, trek the Andes, or cycle across your state.
- Find support in aging - Find a coach who will push you beyond your limits, but who does so with safety and empathy in mind. In addition to a coach for your body, find one for your mind, a counselor, spiritual advisor, or teacher who will help you push through your mental barriers. It is here where the real battle is fought. In the end, you’re only as old as you think you feel.
1. Gretchen Reynolds “What’s Your ‘Fitness’ Age?” New York Times Magazine October 31, 2013.
2. Erin Skarda “Survey: People Aren’t Happiest Until They Reach Age 33” Time. March 29, 2012.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.